Taylor Branch Describes the Long Struggle for Civil Rights

By Elsa Collins

Taylor Branch, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, gave a presentation on "Black Lives Matter: What Have We Learned" to a Broadmead Zoom audience in July. He talked about the Civil Rights Movement and his own education about racial realities. Despite the period's frightening events, he said, the movement produced an expansion of the ideas of freedom in the United States and opened doors to equal citizenship not only for African Americans and people of color, but for women, the disabled, immigrants, gays, and people of various religious beliefs.

Branch first became aware of race issues in his Atlanta birthplace. As a teenager he questioned the motto of Atlanta—"A City too Busy to Hate"—by asking his mother, "If we aren't busy, will we hate?" Thus began his journey into awareness of racial hatred and lack of understanding across races.

When he was a Princeton graduate student, Branch met John Lewis and joined a program to register African American voters in rural Georgia. His efforts involved searching small rural counties for Blacks willing to organize voter registration efforts. These contacts educated him to the reality of the lives of blacks in the rural South and their fears about working for change.

Branch's closing message warned of the dangers produced by backlash, cynicism, and the current challenges of climate change and COVID-19. He reemphasized the fragility of American society still trying to flourish as a multicultural, multiracial, multireligious nation.Branch has written 11 books, including a three-volume history of the civil rights era, America in the King Years. His current project explores the power and distortion of race in American history.

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